Music

Kenya’s first country music album debuts

CountryMusic

Musician Elvis Nyaruri. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • Kenya and East Africa can now claim their own country music artiste, and not just one who performing cover versions of American songs, but original music.
  • Country music, in both traditional and contemporary formats, remains a popular staple among Kenyan music lovers of different generations.

Kenya and East Africa can now claim their own country music artiste, and not just one who performing cover versions of American songs, but original music,” says singer and songwriter Elvis Nyaruri

Country music, in both traditional and contemporary formats, remains a popular staple among Kenyan music lovers of different generations, but the performances of this genre have been confined to artists doing renditions of songs by American country musicians.

The Mombasa born Elvis, has released what is perhaps the very first full country album by a Kenyan artist with the arrival of his debut album “Gichagi” last week on the Universal Music/ A.I Music Kenya imprint.

“This is a piece of art because I gave the music all my effort and creativity with the entire production being recorded with live instruments,” says the artiste who is named after his idol, the American legend Elvis Presley.

He is such an admirer of Elvis that he spent years studying the recordings by the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ going back to the 1950s and modeled his own production on the same format that puts an accent on live instrumentation.

Even his stage costumes are every bit as flamboyant as the dazzling attire that was associated with Elvis.

But he says the comparisons with other musicians should be placed in context.

Target audience

“When I started performing, I never took it as a compliment when people compared my singing to Kenny Rogers or Don Williams, but I was encouraged when those who attended my shows were impressed with my talent,” says Elvis.

“That is until I developed my sound, and writing style with story lines that resonate with a target audience that, just like me, is young and urban.”

The songs are based on the experiences of a generation in their 20s and 30s who are living in an age of social media.

For instance, “Instagram Superstar” is based on the current trends of young people seeking relationships on social media while “I’ll Be Doing Fine” describes a young lady who grows up in the countryside, then relocates to the city and becomes the embodiment of a flashy middle class lifestyle.

It is not just the songwriting that is based on experiences that are uniquely Kenyan but the music itself is arranged to combine typically country rhythms with elements of African instrumentation.

The lead single “In Mombasani” for instance, true to its title, creates a coastal flavour with the mwanzele drums and a saxophone played in the bango style. “Different Worlds Forbidden Lovers” has incorporated percussions reminiscent of the mugithi style of music.

Authentic sound

“We are thinking globally, but acting locally,” is how Elvis sums up this fusion of musical styles on the album.

“While the guitars and bass are typically Country, the accompanying instrumentalists project a variety of African instruments.”

His vision is to create an authentic sound of country music like the Mexicans have been able to do by bringing their regional influences into the genre.

“Even the record company wasn’t sure about a country song on Mombasa, but my approach was to create a fusion of different styles, not to have a song in the typical taarab or chakacha because that is already being done,” he explains.

He assembled the best instrumentalists regardless of their music background to deliver the best arrangements.

So, the keyboardist comes from a reggae band and the drummer plays Afropop and Funk while a Kenyan musician based in Canada, Mac Van Rossi acted as co-composer and played guitar.

Elvis says while the pandemic has caused massive disruption to the music business and rendered many musicians jobless, this period has ironically created opportunities for his career because he secured a recording deal with Universal Music through local affiliate A.

I Records, and completed the production of 13 songs for his debut album which is now available on all streaming platforms

It is also within this period that he has shot three official videos for songs he describes as the linchpin for the album “She Was Hurting Slowly,” “I Just Cannot Wait to Go Back Home” and “In Mombasani”, all available on YouTube.

“I hope that this can be the beginning of a movement of original country music from Kenya and East Africa and such a movement will generate competition among artistes and consequently raise the standards of the music in this region.